Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bikejoring Outing!

This post is sort of going to double as my monthly conditioning post, because I'm going to give a little back story into the conditioning, as well as just a general outing post. Today Bess and I met up with our friends Kennedy and her great dane Vegas for the Dogs Across America event that I put together for the state of Oregon. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I was disappointed that things didn't seem to have come together for this year regarding the organisation and online information. I went ahead and made plans anyhow and Kennedy was the only one who ended up being interested in coming out. We had a great time anyhow! And are actually planning on heading out again and potentially making this a more regular thing, schedules allowing.:o)

The trail that I picked was the Banks Vernonia Trail. I chose this trail because it was relatively easy so that all different abilities of people and dogs would have an enjoyable time on it. The main chunk of trail is paved, with a bark/pebble trail running along side, which would accommodate any type of dog powered sport. It's also just a generally enjoyable trail.

The day started off with the mountain bike that I prefer using with Bess having not only a hole in the tube, but also a tear in the tire itself. The whole thing needs to be replaced. Therefore, I got to use my road bike. You know, those bikes with the really skinny tires that you can pick up with one hand? Not only that, but I still have the clip less pedals attached (and there's NO WAY I'm going to ride a bike with ANY dog attached to me in ANY way while I'm clipped into ANY bike!) as well as my aerobars (I used this bike predominantly for triathlons). Pretty much not the ideal bike to be riding behind a dog with a HIGH prey drive who could go darting off the trail into the woods at the slightest sign of a squirrel, with total disregard to the fact that she's attached to me. And did I mention that due to the narrow tires, a pine cone (of which there were many along the trail) can make your heart skip a beat? Oh yeah, and the best part of all, I forgot my helmet at home! ACK! Now that I've filled your head with all of this lovely drama, everything went off without a hitch and we had a lovely time!:o)

Here's Bess getting ready to go, watching Kennedy and Vegas who are already hooked up and ready to head out:
Kennedy and Vegas ready to head out:
It wasn't raining too bad when we set out, so we didn't get utterly soaked. It actually rained more on the way back and we definitely got more wet along that stretch. The trail is a gradual incline the whole 1.5 miles that we went out. Bess did a GREAT job staying out front and pulling the whole way. I think it helped a lot that she had Kennedy and Vegas to "chase" and therefore something to move towards. She's hasn't been really great about that while practicing at home, but she has been getting slowly better. We weren't moving terribly fast, mostly a good gaiting trot. Kennedy and Vegas easily stayed out ahead of us the whole time. By about the turn around point Bess was lagging a bit more. The areas around the house that I run her are all pretty flat and since I've been focusing on just keeping her happy and out in front of me, I also haven't really had her pulling much. So today she was doing more work than she's used to, but what a trooper. We ended up doing three miles total. I didn't really want to push Bess so much that she just flat out wasn't liking it. I wanted to make sure that we ended with her still having good energy and wanting more.

One of the things that we haven't had much practice with that I was REALLY pleased with how well she did was passing. There were a few people on foot and one couple with a dog that we had to pass a couple of times. In a race, she'll need to potentially pass other teams that are ahead of her without saying hi as well continue on the path I have chosen for her, while another team may be coming the opposite direction. Again, she needs to stay the course regardless and not go and say hi to the other dogs or people. She did great! I did slow down around each person/group that we passed because I wanted to make sure that she payed attention to the command "on by" and didn't try to sniff or gravitate towards the other people. And she did fabulous!! Her behaving well, listening to the "on by" command, and staying out in front on the way out and up hill made me quite impressed with her since we've only been at it for about four weeks after several months off!

All together we did 3 miles. Not too bad. Vegas was definitely a power house out in front. Bess was more content on the way back to trot along next to me. Which was fine. It was down hill the whole way back and I didn't want to push her too much. On the way out I was able to take some video while riding. Yes, I know, I was just plain brilliant on this outing. Riding a road bike with a high prey drive dog attached to it, forgetting my helmet, and recording snippets of our run while steering the bike with one hand. I believe this is one of those do as I say and not as I do moments!;o) At any rate, here are some snippets of our outing!

Now for the more in depth part about using the bike for conditioning. There are MANY ways in which you can use a bike to help exercise your dog. One is to simply hook a leash to your dogs collar and off you go! A lot of conformation people will use this method for road working a dog and getting them into idea condition for the show ring. You want the right amount of muscle and you want the dog to move well in the ring. Get them in great shape and you usually will accomplish this. Another method is the method that Kennedy is using with Vegas. She has a Walky Dog attachment on her bike that clips onto a harness on Vegas that she made especially for this. The next method is for bikejoring, where you have your dog in a pulling harness attached to your bike by a tug line. All methods can be very effective depending on what you're after.

I've been working Bess with the bike two to three times a week now. This is the first time that I've had her around a bike. Otherwise it's just been a scooter or cross country skis. The scooter may seem similar enough to the bike, but they both make different noises, you're in different positions, and your movements are much different for each. It took Bess a few times just to get used to going along with me while I was on the bike. Initially I would take her out while she was in harness, but I decided to toss that idea because she really wasn't wanting to get out in front of me and pull. I want her to associate the harness with pulling and being in work mode, so it was counter productive to have her being unsure of her "job" and associated that with the harness. So I switched her to just a leash and collar. This has worked out really well. Gradually she's gained more confidence. I think it also took her a little more time to adjust because I was running her in the dark and things are just a lot different in the dark. As she got to know our routes better and adjust to me being on the bike she got a lot more confident and was a lot happier being out in front of me. I didn't let her put any tension on the leash because just a collar and leash aren't really an appropriate pulling set up and I certainly don't want her getting it into her head that pulling while on leash is a great idea! I've also found it useful to have her on leash so that I can just let go of the leash if say, a squirrel darts across our path and she gets hell bent on chasing it. And this has happened! I would have been kissing pavement for sure if she was hooked up to the bike.

With regards to how long and how fast, that varies a lot depending on the initial condition of your dog. You really want to always leave them wanting more, but have them exercised enough so that they're not still bouncing off the walls. Since I had been running both dogs around the soccer field previously, I sort of randomly picked a route that I felt would be roughly what we were running. Each week I gradually add onto this distance. Right now I'm just focusing on increasing her distance and endurance. The only skijoring races that I have planned for her are only 2 miles long. We've already surpassed that distance in practice, but since we're also showing in the conformation ring, a trot is ideal for her conditioning. Our route has a few loops in it, so that when I want to increase the distance I just add an extra loop on. A good rule of thumb for how much and what to increase is to increase no more than 10% of either speed or duration. That's the rule of thumb that I use for my triathlon training and I just carry that over with the dogs when I'm doing focused exercise work with them. It's kind of hard to gauge speed unless you have some sort of speedometer on you. And it's also hard to increase in your speed in an increment of 10%. If I were focusing on speed, and we will be next winter, I would slowly increase the amount of time that I have her loping along to gradually get her more comfortable at a higher speed instead of always trotting. Like I said before, I'm just focusing on increasing her distance and endurance, so we just do a general 10% increase in distance. I also follow this general rule while running with Heffner on foot. Hopefully that's helpful!

I'm also happy to say that I finally finished bagging up all the meat tonight with some help from the hubby!! Adam cut the beef heart into chunks, which was incredibly helpful! Now we're set for another three months.:o)

Today I am thankful that Bess is coming along so nicely with regards to her -joring training!:o)


Paula said...

Just visiting your blog for the first time. I'd love to link to yours. I have a blue male Dane named Savage. Looking forward to exploring your site more...

Lindsay said...

I've been reading Savage's blog!:o)